Is your institution considering implementing a room or class scheduling software for the first time? How do you decide that it is “the right time” to do so? Will your institution get its Return on Investment (ROI)? Even if your institution does its scheduling “well,” if you are using a book, or paper and pencil or Excel, it is the right time and there will be ROI. Trust me, even the best of academic schedulers using Excel, with all its tricks, will have improvement using a room optimizer and by implementing best practices.
Here is how class scheduling was for me B.RO. (before room optimizer):
I must be truthful; even before my old institution purchased and implemented new scheduling software, we had a really good handle on course scheduling because we had standard meeting patterns for 3 credit courses and we demanded that 1, 2, and 4 credit course started on module.
99% of our 3,500 face to face, on campus, 3-credit course sections met:
2 days per week, 1 hour 15 minute per meeting for daytime classes
8:30am, 10am, 11:30am, 1pm, 2:30pm, 4pm1 day per week, 2 hour 30 minutes per meeting for evening classes
And because of this standardization, our room optimization was pretty good:
- 90% plus room utilization in all the time periods you’d expect, Monday-Thursday 10am, 11:30am, 1pm, 2:30pm.
- 80% room utilization in some of the 8:30’s
- 70% room utilization on Fridays at 10am, 11:30am and 1pm.
How was this even possible?
We had best practices we could rely on:
- We had standard timeblocks or meeting periods.
- The Registrar’s office “owned” a lot of general classroom space.
- Events in general classroom space only ran in the late evening, during the University’s common hour or on weekends.
We had good rapport with our constituents:
- We encouraged collaboration with the academic units and the Provost’s office.
- There was “policing” (with good rapport and collaboration) by the Registrar’s office.
There was some luck:
- Our campus was walkable in 15 minutes for passing between classes.
- We had live reports (not day-old ones).
- We had staff who knew how to use Excel: filters, pivot tables, etc
- We had buy in from the faculty.
Ask me how much time it took to get to this state of euphoric room utilization each semester.
Let’s put it this way:
We started working on our Fall schedules in January and did our first round of room assignments right before registration: late March. Room scheduling continued until the first day of class in September (2 days after Labor Day).
Here is the caveat:
After August 1st, the only thing I worked on until the first day of classes was room assignments (including Labor Day weekend). During this time period, the rest of the staff tackled the course changes and email negotiations and policing. “No, you may not add a class Monday/Thursday at 11am on August 23rd.”
Five weeks of doing little else but rooming by hand
…including Labor Day
...using only reports from our SIS and Excel
But this blog entry isn’t about how well (or how slowly) one institution performed its class scheduling. This blog is about deciding if the timing is right for your institution to move to a class scheduling software, like Coursedog and about ROI.
Making the jump to technology
Deciding to implement software is a process that includes not only the technical aspects of the project, but requires that you review your campus policies, campus culture and business processes and how to adopt best practices. (This is a good time to get to standard timeblocks, centralized room “ownership” and faculty buy in.)
Ditch the paper process.
I am still surprised, when I speak to university schedulers and registrars (or VPs), and learn that their institutions are still wedded to a book, pencil and an eraser (or labels) to perform room scheduling. (When I first arrived at my old institution many years ago, the first thing I did was throw out “the book” <<Insert gasp here>> and train my entire staff in how to use Excel.)
Cite best practice:
Universities and colleges can’t have wonky time blocks or classroom periods in general classrooms. Classroom spaces must be used to their fullest capacity. It is easy to prove to your constituents that standardization is paramount. Run a building or room utilization report and, voila, there’s your proof. This is much easier to do once you implement your new course scheduling software, like Coursedog.
Cite best practice:
The Registrar’s office/Academic Scheduler needs to “own” a lot/all of general classroom/purpose/use space. It all means the same thing. The Registrar must retain control over these rooms so that standardization of timeblocks remains consistent.
Cite best practice:
I cannot cite “Cite best practice enough.” The most important best practice is implement a class scheduling software. Better yet, get one that does room optimization and room utilization reporting like Coursedog. Room optimization can take place in an afternoon.
Set your goals so you know what your ROI is:
- Better room utilization
- Maybe you'd like easier to run, live reports.
- Certainly, you'd rather have your classroom optimization done in an afternoon.